How to telework well

Working from home can be a life-saver - or a career destroyer. One researcher looks what factors make teleworking successful



At a recent conference hosted by Macquarie University’s Faculty of Business and Economics, Professor Tim Bentley of the Auckland University of Technology (AUT) delivered a paper on productivity and working from home (teleworking).

In it, he showcased the preliminary data from around 800 New Zealand participants in the trans-Tasman Telework Productivity and Wellbeing Project – a collaboration between AUT and University of Melbourne. The full report will be available on New Zealand Work Research Institute site in October.

Bentley believes that telework can increase productivity and is particularly interested in the interaction of variables that support good teleworking: the individual; the technology; the task; the environment; and the organisation.

“Where some of these variables don’t sit well together, if people are poorly suited to their situation, their home environment isn’t right, the technology isn’t right and so on, then there may be issues,” he said.

The measures Bentley and his colleagues used in the project were self-reporting and managerial views. The participants were mainly European New Zealanders in permanent, full-time work. A majority (57%) were non-managerial staff, while the other were 43% managerial staff. All worked in industries suitable for telework, including finance and insurance (34%), education (24%), professional, scientific, administration (10%).

While 16% of the sample teleworked for less than one hour per week, the vast majority (92%) teleworked for less than 20 hours per week. The mean number of hours teleworked was nine per week. More than three quarters of teleworkers (79%) worked at home; co-working hubs are still very uncommon.

Only 17% of teleworkers had a written agreement regarding their arrangement. “Organisations aren’t really well prepared for this, and where things are happening they’re often ad-hoc. One of the issues with productivity … is that managers are beginning to say in our interviews that they have not yet thought about the productivity issue and how you go about measuring that within an organisation,” Bentley explained.

Other key findings:

  • Low intensity teleworkers (1-8 hours per week) had significantly lower telework productivity than hybrid teleworkers (9-24 hours per week)
  • Low intensity teleworkers had significantly lower telework satisfaction and job satisfaction than hybrid teleworkers
  • Low intensity teleworkers had significantly lower managerial support for telework than hybrid teleworkers
  • Managerial support is the single most important variable, it reduces social isolation and increases telework satisfaction and wellbeing and telework productivity

“So is telework productive? In this sample yes, but it’s reliant on the necessary support…management support is the key thing and that reflects a lot of what I’ve read in the literature,” Bentley concluded.

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